MPS’ chief academic officer resigns

MPS’ chief academic officer, Heidi Ramirez, who came to Milwaukee with superintendent Gregory Thornton when he arrived in 2010, has resigned. Ramirez said she will continue in her position through mid-July to help ease the transition.

MPS spokesperson Roseann St. Aubin said the district intends to replace Ramirez (the CAO position was unfilled for a time before her arrival, at which point it was reconfigured somewhat) and the search is beginning.

In her role as chief academic officer, Ramirez, who is from Amsterdam, N.Y., has led three departments: curriculum and instruction, research and evaluation and specialized services, which includes special education, social work and others.

She was new to the Midwest when she got here and she said she never planned on staying forever.

“Milwaukee has been very good to me,” she via telephone Tuesday. “The Midwest has been a whole new experience for me. But, when I moved here I did not expect that I would be spending the rest of my life in the Midwest and so I’d always planned that a certain point I’d be making a transition.”

Ramirez said she is not leaving MPS for another position. She expects to take some time off to consider options. In the meantime, she said she’s pleased with the work she’s accomplished here.

Perhaps the most recognizable facet of that work was her hand in helping to guide the creation and implementation of the district’s comprehensive math and science curriculum.

She also pointed to improvements in school counseling services, career and college readiness and inclusion of students with disabilities. But, she said, the work has not been hers alone.

“I think the wonderful thing, looking back, is that none of them are my big accomplishments. We have just built a fantastic team. We’ve created a shared sense of urgency and purpose that we didn’t have as a district. When we got here we were nearly 200 very independent schools, very different things and without a lot of the systems you needed to help move them in one direction. I feel very good that we have created a common vision, particularly around teaching and learning.”

Bay View High School teacher Jay Bullock, who also writes about education issues for SchoolMattersMKE and The Bay View Compass, echoed Ramirez’s comments.

“I think Dr. Thornton saw her as instrumental in his effort to make MPS a school system, rather than a system of schools,” he said. “Being an outsider probably gave her an advantage in not having any bias or ‘old boys club’ kinds of alliances, but at the same time she came in without any allies – besides the other outsiders – and into a position that had never previously existed in MPS (at least not in its current configuration). Ultimately, I am not sure she ever fit that niche. I don’t know if that’s the fault of her herself, or this district’s just being unresponsive to any one person’s efforts to change much of anything, insider or outsider.”

Bullock said that Ramirez faced a difficult road here and that, in his eyes, the results were mixed.

“Ramirez had a visible hand in standardizing professional development, and trying to move the district’s teachers into some semblance of being on the same page,” he says. “I don’t know if she has ever referred to it as herding cats, but, man, to me that’s what it looked like she was trying to do, and I did not envy her the task. That’s where having allies, or at least the trust of a district’s staff that is reform-weary, would have helped.”

Ramirez, however, believes that she has helped build a solid basis on which to build further progress in the district and she has a list of accomplishments that speak of improvement in MPS, from two schools among the top in the nation, to improved graduation rates, improved ACT scores and improved 10th grade WKCE scores.

“We’ve got more work to do, but I certainly do feel like we’re on the right course,” she said. “Most indicators in terms of looking at what’s happening in our classrooms show a level of fidelity to implementation of this vision and really a shared sense of purpose around it. I feel like we’ve got a really strong foundation for the work ahead.”

This, she said, is part of the impetus for her to move on and let the work continue here while she seeks out a new opportunity. The time, she said, is right for a change.

“The more I’ve been reflecting on where the district is and all the good things we’ve gotten in place,” she said, “I’ll be honest, I’ve been in and around school districts where leaders have stayed too long and others left too early, so I’ve always been real cognizant of figuring out what the right transition points are in terms of making sure the work is ready and sustainable and with the right leader in place for the right phase of that work.

“As this year was getting closer to winding down and I was reflecting on it, I felt really good that we’re about to start stage two and that’s a good point for me to step out and hand over the mantle. We’ve created some incredible capacity among our staff, I believe, to help drive this work and continue this work.”

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